Are historical land use conditions by definition a racist plot?
The Washington Post has an article, "Ward 5 pushes back as city moves more trucks to already industrial neighborhood," about Ward 5 residents complaining about the ward's possession of a preponderance of the city's industrially-zoned land, so they believe that continued use of this land for industrial purposes makes the ward the city's "dumping ground."
Last summer a freight derailment in Ward 5 created problems ("In aftermath of derailment, D.C. officials turn focus to CSX and its cargo," Washington Post) and more recently in the same vicinity, two CSX employees were killed when they stepped off their freight train to check on a problem, and they were hit by an Amtrak passenger train.
Generally, industrial land in cities has been located along rivers, waterfronts, and railroad tracks. Ward 5 has a preponderance of the city's railroad trackage as three of the four major passenger rail lines and two of the three major freight rail lines are located in Ward 5. Since land on either side of the railroad tracks tends to be zoned industrial, most of the city's industrial lands are located in Ward 5.
- Penn Line/Northeast Corridor to Boston
- Camden Line to Baltimore
- Metropolitan Branch to West Virginia (partly in Ward 4)
- but Union Station to Virginia is in Ward 6 (as is some of the Union Station railyard)
- the Metropolitan Branch (is primarily a freight railroad used also for passenger traffic)
- Washington Branch (from Baltimore to DC, includes what is called the MARC Camden Line)
- Alexandria Extension (in Ward 6 and/or Ward 7/8) to the RF&P Subdivision (from Union Station to Virginia Avenue to Maryland Avenue to Virginia)
River frontage in DC is no longer particularly industrial because much of it is controlled by the National Park Service and used as park land. But Georgetown used to be a warehouse and industrial center, and the Washington Navy Yard on the Anacostia River was a major industrial site.
Interestingly, some writings (notably John Wennersten's Ancostia: The Death and Life of an American River) recount criticisms of the park use of the banks of the Anacostia River as denying African-Americans job and business development opportunities around the maritime industry.
Conundrum of planning at three scales: metropolitan; city-wide; and neighborhood/ward. The article mentions the Ward 5 Industrial Lands Study, which I criticized for being too parochial--only looking at Ward 5, when other parts of the city have similar land use conditions--and namby-pamby in terms of providing concrete recommendations for retention of industrial land through zoning controls. See "DC Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study identifies zoning issues (that I raised 6 years ago...)."
The fact is the city needs some "Production, Distribution, and Repair" land to serve its various uses city-wide. From the metropolitan scale standpoint, displacing these uses to the suburbs still requires trips to and from the city from these facilities, and there are limited entrypoints, therefore, displacing industrial uses contributes to traffic congestion.
But that means that Ward 5, because that land already exists in that zoning category, bears the majority of the costs of providing that as a "public good" to the rest of the city. (Ward 4 and Ward 6 also have industrial lands, and there is railroad trackage in Ward 7 and a semi-abandoned Anacostia Railyard in the middle of what otherwise would be Anacostia Park.)
VRE and storage. This comes up with Virginia Railway Express program to build a storage yard in Ward 5, adjacent to New York Avenue. It is an undesirable use. It's not likely a preferred use. But the railroad was there first and railroads have extranormal protections under federal law to maintain their use of land for railroad purposes.
That doesn't mean that there aren't alternatives, they just aren't cheap, and it also requires an upgrade of the Long Bridge over the Potomac River which connects Union Station to Virginia. Currently there are only two tracks, which CSX owns. As a result, there are limited "slots" for passenger railroad traffic. This means that instead of running trains back and forth as round trips, VRE sends most trains into Washington one-way, and they return in the evening. This requires that each train be stored in DC during the day.
I've recommended that by merging the MARC Penn Line with the VRE Fredericksburg Line the need for storage facilities would be significantly reduced. See "A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines."
Environmental Justice. The issue of Ward 5 and Industrial Land raises tricky environmental justice issues. Are Ward 5 residents dissed because they are primarily African-American and so the uses end up "in their ward." Or did the residents end up there because properties were cheaper because they abutted or were near industrially zoned land?
Conclusion. While I think all residents deserve to be protected from nuisances. But when you live by industrial land, I don't think you have the right to fight continued use of that land for PDR type uses.
Calling it "a dumping ground" is a convenient obfuscation of the facts. Someone at a presentation I was at recently talked about how easy it is to "racialize" most any issue in DC. It's easy for me to say, with my "white gaze," that's what's going on, but at the same time, it's easy to racialize issues that are not so accurately categorized in that way.
Notes. Aesthetics. For what it's worth, in the DC State Rail Plan, I did encourage placemaking-architecture-urban design related mitigation, to make the railroad "architecture" fit in better to the city, and some of those ideas--based on a 1902 article from House and Garden Magazine entitled, "Railroad Beautiful," did make it into the plan.